SpaceX prepped for launch of secretive payload Wednesday

Zuma: code name for U.S. government payload

SpaceX file photo from the March 2017 launch of the EchoStar XXIII satellite.
SpaceX file photo from the March 2017 launch of the EchoStar XXIII satellite. (SpaceX)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – With twice the amount of launches this year than in 2016, SpaceX isn’t slowing down before the holidays.

SpaceX is scheduled to launch a secret government payload, code named Zuma, Wednesday evening on a Falcon 9 rocket. The two-hour launch window opens at 8 p.m. Air Force weather officials are predicting a 70 percent chance of good weather conditions. If the launch is delayed, weather improves for the backup window on Thursday to a 90 percent chance for "go" weather, come liftoff time.

SpaceX successfully completed an engine test fire on Saturday, allowing the company to move ahead with the planned launch of Zuma.

Not much is known about Zuma. Northrop Grumman was contracted by the U.S. government to fulfill the payload, the company said last month. There are some clues about Zuma's destination, because SpaceX plans to launch the rocket's first stage back at Cape Canaveral Landing Zone 1 and not on the drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean, meaning it's likely destined for a low Earth orbit.

The launch will mark the 17th this year for Falcon 9.

In one of the last planned launches of the year, SpaceX will use Cape Canaveral Air Force Complex pad 40 for the first time since an explosion damaged the pad last year. A Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft will deliver supplies to the International Space Station for NASA on Dec. 4.

The company also has plans for the first test flight of its new, more powerful rocket, the Falcon Heavy, which SpaceX is targeting before the end of the year.

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